Wednesday, January 20, 1999

Counties’ need
for funds gets
sympathetic ear
at Legislature

By Gordon Y.K. Pang


Leaders of the state Legislature's two money committees are adopting a wait-and-see attitude following the latest plea by the four county mayors for more funding sources.

Legislature '99 The mayors called for everything from restoring lost hotel room tax revenues to allowing the counties to charge property tax to the state .

Senate Ways and Means Co-Chairman Andrew Levin (D, Kau-Kona) said he sympathizes with the plight of the counties. He and his colleagues will heed the warning that property taxes may have to be raised to make up for falling county revenues.

"I think we recognize that the city's constituents and the state's constituents are the same," Levin said.

The counties have been criticized in the past for going to the Legislature for money, claiming paucity on the one hand and then offering property tax breaks to the residents with the other.

But that isn't happening this year.

"The counties have done their part," Levin said. "I'm impressed with the counties' ability to streamline and meet their financial obligations."

The Senate will explore all the options presented by the mayors. "A case can made for most of these things," he said.

Levin said he's more inclined to support legislation giving counties authority to generate revenues than bills that would take money away from the state's existing revenue stream.

House Finance Chairman Dwight Takamine (D, North Hamakua/North Hilo) said he's withholding his opinions until House Speaker Calvin Say unveils the specifics of a majority package plan over the next several days.

"Some of the ideas expressed will find a parallel in the House majority package," Takamine promised. He said legislators are looking to "working with the counties as partners. But what we can and cannot do will depend on the fiscal limits that we're under."

He acknowledged that the forced reduction in transient accommodations tax distributed to the counties is partly to blame for putting them in the financial hole.

But he noted the counties have reduced fixed costs by tens of millions of dollars in recent years because of a reduction in the amount contributed to the state employee retirement system.

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